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Agriculture and greenhouse gases, a common tragedy. A review

Stavi, Ilan, Lal, Rattan
Agronomy for sustainable development 2013 v.33 no.2 pp. 275-289
agroforestry, animal husbandry, animal manure management, biochar, cover crops, crop production, crop residue management, cropland, diet, ecological footprint, economic incentives, ecosystem services, energy, environmental degradation, environmental impact, farmers, field crops, food production, global warming, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, human population, humans, issues and policy, livestock, livestock production, nutrients, pest control, pests, precision agriculture, reduced tillage, soil amendments, soil treatment
Increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases has led to global warming and associated climatic changes. The problem has been aggravated by the perception that the atmosphere is an infinite and toll-free resource. The well-known concept proposed by Garrett Hardin—“The Tragedy of the Commons”—highlights the misuse of common resources, which ultimately lead to their depletion. This article emphasizes the relevance of the same concept to the current climatic changes and highlights the impact of agriculture on the environment. The specific focus is on field crop production and livestock husbandry that have resulted in deteriorating environmental services and increased greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, the total amount of energy consumed by these sectors is enormous, encompassing 11 exajoules (EJ) annually. In addition, the article highlights possible impacts of climate change on agricultural productivity. Considering the foreseen growth of the global human population, it is expected that additional pressures will aggravate natural environments. Adoption of recommended management practices is crucial to reverse the environmental footprint of agriculture and lessen its impact on climate change. Regarding croplands, these practices can include reduced tillage systems, crop residue management, improved management of nutrients and pests, cover cropping, agroforestry, biochar application as soil amendment, and utilization of precision agriculture technologies. In the livestock sector, recommended management practices include changes in animals’ diet and appropriate management of manure. Adoption of these practices is also expected to decrease the on-farm and off-farm energy use. To encourage the adoption of these practices, authorities should provide the farmers with incentives, such as payments for improving environmental services. Also, international regulations must be enforced to instigate a notable shift in human diets with the goal of reducing the environmental impact of food production. Judicious implementation of related policies would be crucial for promoting the required links between agricultural production and environmental sustainability.